This issue of Natural Resource Perspectives from ODI (Overseas Development Institute) examines the benefits and disadvantages of joint water and forest management in India. Policies promoting the joint management (i.e. between the state and resource users) of resources such as forests or water are currently in vogue in India and elsewhere. Many see advantage in the decentralised administration that these arrangements imply. However, they also imply a redistribution of power and so are profoundly political, and their success, if real, cannot be fully explained in terms of a rent-seeking, all-powerful, bureaucratic state. This paper lays out the more complex politics underpinning joint management, assessing interaction between the political and administrative wings of government and the influence of semi-autonomous actors such as donors, NGOs and academics, and identifies the potential for and route towards more, if gradual, decentralisation in the future. The following policy conclusions are made. Conventional analyses of joint management ar rooted in organisational theory where their apolitical character severely limits their explanatory power. Joint management arrangements fall short of full community involvement, so that in effect the state gives up very little power. However, joint management is here to stay and its varying performance across the country needs to be understood. In practice, the motivation behind the state's acceptance of joint management is often that it helps to avoid a fiscal crisis by passing costs to resource users. Actors other than government have only had limited influence. In the long run, NGOs and academics will do well to pressurise the political arm of the state, which needs to be convinced of the electoral gains from decentralisation.