The established rhetoric of opposition between state and NGOs as development agents has shifted to one of complementarity and common interest. Along with this, the ‘comparative advantage’ claimed for NGOs has expanded from economic and welfare benefits to encompass also the political goods of civil society and popular participation. This paper reviews these developments in the context of Bangladesh. It argues that they need to be assessed critically in ways which are both theoretically informed and locally contextualized. While recognizing that there are, indeed, areas of common experience and interest between the state and NGOs in Bangladesh, it questions whether these necessarily coincide with the interests of those they all invoke: the poor.