This paper examines the significance of politics in the rise of social assistance programmes in developing countries in the last decade on the basis of case studies of India, Brazil and South Africa. Most of the literature on social assistance is focused on design and outcomes, but ignores the politics of it. Politics influences social assistance programmes in a two-way process. Politics is crucial to the adoption, design and implementation of social assistance programmes, but the latter also have a feedback effect on local and national politics. A comparative perspective helps identify some key parameters in the politics of social ssistance.